By Whatcom Humane Society development associate Courtney Adams
For domestic animals, your first job is to make sure the animal is safe. Frightened, stressed or injured animals can be unpredictable, so be sure you’re staying as safe as possible.
Use a carrier, leash, towel or length of rope to contain the animal in a secure location. If the animal is wearing identification with a phone number, try to contact the owner to inform them that you have their pet.
If the animal is injured, contact animal control (or 911 if it’s after business hours) and handle it as little as possible to avoid causing any additional damage. If you can’t contain the animal, let animal control know it’s currently at large.
If the animal is not wearing any form of identification, check with your local humane society, a local vet, or animal control to check whether the animal is microchipped. Never assume that the animal you found was dumped, abandoned, abused, neglected or homeless unless you have concrete evidence or until all efforts to find an owner/guardian have failed. Accidents can happen to even the most responsible pet owner and the condition of an animal can change very quickly depending on the circumstances.
Make sure to check any relevant laws in your state, county or town and contact your local animal control agency, humane society, or SPCA International to make sure you are doing everything you are required to. You may have the option to keep the animal while you actively search for an owner but make sure to take all reasonable and legal measures to reunite the animal with its owner.
This can be as simple as letting your local animal control know that you have a certain animal in your possession. You can also post descriptions on websites such as Craigslist or Facebook to get the word out that you have found an animal. Remember to always use caution if posting a picture online because it makes proving ownership more challenging.
Call local vets and ask if they take found reports for animals found by the public. It could be the case that the vet office you call may already have a lost report for the animal you found. Look for lost posters in the area the animal was found and see if there are any matching the description of the animal you found. Also, look at the lost section of websites such as Craigslist to see if someone posted that animal missing.
Consider posting “Found” flyers in the area where the animal was found but, again, use caution if you are using a picture of the animal. A good idea would be to post a general description of the animal with details that need to be described further to prove ownership such as: “Found: Small fluffy black dog wearing collar.”
If you are unsure if you should keep a stray animal, keep these questions in mind: Are you willing to add him to your household if no owner can be found? Will you be willing to return him to his original home if the owner turns up after you’ve started to form an attachment? If you answer “no” to these questions, your best option may be to take the animal directly to the shelter or contact animal control for assistance.
If someone comes forward claiming to be the owner, make sure you require proof of ownership before giving the animal to that person. This can be in the form of vet records or pictures of the animal. Also be sure to ask open-ended questions when asking for a description of the animal such as, “What color collar was your cat wearing?” or, “Describe your dog’s tail.”
Animal control can be reached at 360/733-2080 ext. 3017. Call 911 to be transferred to an on-call officer after business hours. The Whatcom Humane Society is located at 2172 Division Street in Bellingham.